7 Tips for Budgeting When You’re in the Military

All members of the military deserve a round of applause and a debt of gratitude – on this day and every other. Still, just like any other worker, from time to time, folks in the military might have a hard time managing their money. After all, when you are serving there are usually a lot more pressing matters at hand compared to whether your cell phone bill is paid on time.

Luckily, it’s not impossible to manage your money if you’re in the military. With that in mind, let’s take a look at seven tips you can use to make sure that your financial house is in order whether you’re deployed overseas, serving at a base domestically or even on leave:

1. Make Sure Your Bills Get Paid – Even When You’re Overseas

Whether you have to make recurring loan payments, have a mortgage or simply need to make regular payments on your child’s tuition, it’s imperative that you set up automatic payments or designate a family member – such as a spouse, sibling or parent – to pay your bills on your behalf.

Unfortunately, creditors are creditors – and even though you’re serving our country, they might not be so forgiving. By taking the proactive steps to make sure there’s a plan in place to get your bills paid, you’re given the peace of mind that comes with knowing you won’t get hit with a smorgasbord of late fees – and your credit score won’t suffer, either.

2. Don’t Skimp on Insurance

Let’s say you rent a home or an apartment. All of a sudden, you’re deployed domestically or internationally. You figure it’s fine to leave all of your possessions in your home – if there’s a flood or a fire, your landlord is probably liable, right?
Believe it or not, if such a scenario were to occur and you were without renter’s insurance, you may very well be liable for the entire damage – and there may be no one to bail you out. Luckily, renter’s insurance is extremely affordable. You just need to pick up the phone and make the call. But speaking of insurance…there’s one more thing you need to figure out.

3. Evaluate Your Auto Insurance Needs

Legally speaking, auto insurance isn’t something you can avoid – just like taxes. Almost every state requires motorists to at least have liability insurance. Tuning up your credit score with on-time bill and debt payments will help you secure lower rates. It’s also important to shop around since a lot of service members swear by military-oriented financial companies for the lowest rates. Most insurance providers even provide a 15% discount for those serving in the military. Understanding insurance terms, state military rules and deployment options will help protect your assets at a reasonably lower cost.

4. Start Planning for Retirement Early, and Don’t Forget the Federal Thrift Savings Plan

Though you might be in your 20s or 30s – and heck, even your teens – retirement will come quicker than you can imagine. Just ask literally any older person and they’ll tell you the same thing: Life passes us by pretty fast.

In addition to your other investments, you might want to max out your IRA – in 2015, you can defer up to $5,500 in such an account. You should also strongly consider enrolling in the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan, an investment opportunity open only to those who’ve been employed by the federal government. Generally speaking, you’ll get access to some of the best, most reliable funds in the world at an extremely favorable expense ratio.

Remember, compounding is a great thing. Setting aside even a bit of money today could put you in a great position for tomorrow.

5. Take Advantage of Military Discounts

Don’t be shy! Those in the military literally put their lives on the line to make sure everyone else is safe and America remains prosperous. As such, many businesses don’t hesitate for a second to offer military members discounts on their goods.
While you might think that your pride prohibits you from taking advantage of such things, you’d be wrong. If you find yourself thinking along those lines, consider military discounts from the other perspective: It’s a business owner’s way of showing his or her gratitude to you. You’re not holding your hand out and asking; they are offering.

6. Get Involved in Free Activities Offered on Base

If you and your family find yourselves living on base, taking advantage of the activities and supplies offered for free – or at significantly discounted prices – seems like a no-brainer.

Whether you’re looking to join a gym, play 18 holes of golf or buy school supplies for the little ones, you might want to take a look at the advantages you’re privy to thanks to being enrolled in the military. Ask yourself how well you know all of the offerings on your base. Chances are there are at least one or two ways you could save money that you haven’t thought of yet.

7. Track Your Expenses

Though this might be common sense, you’d be surprised at how a little run-of-the-mill budgeting can go a long, long way. By simply keeping track of what you’re spending your money on, you can have a ballpark guess as to where your finances stand each month. When you focus on your spending and keep it top of mind, you’re way less likely to dig yourself under a huge pile of debt.

Thank You

Whether you’re currently serving in the military or you’ve reverted to civilian status since your time in the armed forces, we want to thank you for your service and help you save as much of those hard-earned greenbacks as you can. If you’re ever in a tight spot financially or just want to talk, we have an entire counseling team dedicated to helping veterans and active duty service members—all for free. Don’t hesitate to give our Reconnect program a try!

Anum Yoon is a personal finance writer and blogger who started and maintains Current On Currency. As a supporter of the sustainability movement, she also frequently writes about how we can help the environment. You can follow her on Twitter to catch her updates.

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